Monday, October 13, 2008

Counting votes: You're doing it wrong

I have to admit, the first time I heard about people mistrusting computerized voting, I just felt amused. Silly Luddites, I thought. After all, how hard can it be for a computer to count?

Really hard, it turns out, if you start with the stupid premise that you ought to write every byte of the software from scratch, incorporating no preexisting software of known and verifiable quality. That's the approach that proprietary vending machine makers have taken - presumably to lend credibility to their patents.

There's a new interview with the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, where she talks very frankly about the serious problems Ohio has found with its voting software. I'm glad Ohio now offers a paper ballot option. I'm going to use it. I truly have no idea what happened to my 2004 vote.

There's a perfect solution waiting to be used: PVote by Ka-Ping Yee, one of the Python community's greats. In his interview with NPR's Science Friday, he describes how voting software should and can be written: as a minimal, readable, high-level program that relies on existing open-source components of thoroughly-verified quality. Ka-Ping, my vote is for you.

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